Kalamazoo Gazette's Julie Mack recently praised the privately funded "Kalamazoo Promise" college scholarship program and questioned the
priorities of Grand Rapids-based philanthropists who support charter schools
and vouchers. She claimed that while parental choice programs serve less than 5
percent of students, "The Promise taps into the power of public schools."
criticism would make more sense if it were directed at the lawmakers and special
interests responsible for marginalizing school choice programs. For example,
the Michigan Legislature has arbitrarily capped at 150 the number of charter
schools authorized by universities. Elsewhere, every voucher program in the
nation is restricted to narrow groups of students or limited in some other way.
example, Milwaukee has the nation's largest voucher program, but it's still
capped at just 22,500 students, or about one-quarter of the district's total.
Even with this limitation, however, studies have shown that the program raised the level
of achievement of students in conventional schools and generated higher
graduation rates. Participating private schools are safer,
less racially segregated and cost taxpayers half
as much as the conventional schools in Milwaukee.
if Michigan were to shut down the corrupt Detroit public school system and
replace it with independently operated charter schools we would finally discover what "transformational
reform" really looks like.
is also mistaken in characterizing charters schools as not a part of "public
education." Charters are funded by taxpayers, use only state-certified
teachers, comply with a host of government regulations and open their doors to
any and all who apply (except, of course, when those artificial constraints
mean there's not enough room). They
are public schools by any meaningful definition.
Mack assumes that Grand Rapids philanthropists have limited their charity to
charter schools. However, according to the Michigan Department of Education,
conventional schools in Kent County received more private funding than its charters — $3.97
million versus $1.17 million in 2009.
of this is to take anything away from "The Kalamazoo Promise." It's a fine
example of power of private philanthropy. The program is too young yet, though,
to determine if it will truly be "transformational" for the Kalamazoo community and its students.
schools and vouchers are among many experiments in how to improve schools, meet
parents' demands and enhance educational outcomes for students. If they've
failed so far to do this on a grand scale, it's because their scope has been
restricted by competing special interests.
"The Kalamazoo Promise," however, neither of these innovations depends on the
presence and generosity of a one or a handful of millionaires, which means they
are much more broadly applicable (that is, if they're allowed to be).
Mack's public admiration of the Promise is appropriate, but she should also be
willing to let 100 flowers bloom elsewhere without criticizing their
supporters, or insinuating that they are motivated by any other "agenda" than
improving the lives of all the community's children.
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